Employing Brain-Friendly Learning Strategies to Advance Student Achievement and Problem Solving

I remember my first teaching interview like it was yesterday. I’ll never forget one question the principal asked, “Do you think teaching is an art or a science?” Educators continue to debate this question, but recent research into how the brain learns suggests that teaching, and learning, has a base in science. Researchers have learned that different components of the brain retrieve and hold onto information in a seemingly systematic way. As educators, if we teach with these findings in mind; we can actually help our students learn and retain information successfully.

One of the first brain-based strategies that helps set the stage for optimum retention is creating a safe and nurturing environment in which to learn. By building a supportive classroom full of respect, encouraging words, helpful correction, and familiar routines, teachers are giving their student’s brains permission to relax and receive new information. Researchers know that emotions are tied to learning, and when teachers meet a student’s requirement for safety and security, it is easier for students to transfer knowledge to their long-term memory.

Allowing students plenty of time to reflect on new information is proven to help students make a connection to the material thereby cementing it in their long-term memory. By providing time to journal, turn-and-talk, or answer open-ended questions the teacher has gifted students with time to process.  Also, by allowing students to make choices regarding assignments or projects, students are required to solve any unforeseen twists or turns within the assignment. Of course, the teacher controls the number of choices and the nature of the material, but the student has the freedom to determine how they demonstrate their knowledge. For example, a teacher may give a student the choice to create a podcast, a video journal, or a standard essay to show what they have learned. The teacher provides academic requirements that are the same for every project, but the delivery is dictated by the student. 

Finally, to optimize brain-based learning, we must address the need tokeep student’s attention and create stimuli which prompt memory recall. Students need activities which give them plenty of opportunities to practice new skills. By creating engaging activities that occupy not only the brain, but also engage physical movement, students learn even more. By using hands-on activities which allow students to manipulate objects and use visuals as learning tools physically, we help them focus their attention  on the task at hand. 

As teachers, many of the brain-based strategies come naturally to us, but if we become teacher-researchers and learn more about how the brain actually learns, it will inspire us to become intentional about keeping the student at the heart of learning. By giving consent to our students to pause and reflect, make personal connections with new information, and giving them choice in as much of their learning as we can, we aid our students in committing their learning to long term memory. In other words, I believe teaching still is an art, but it is an art that has been shaped and molded by the realm of science. 

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